EXTRA – The Rise of the Micro-pub – the Pint-Sized Revolution

Steve James

The Rise of the Micro-pub – the Pint-Sized Revolution

The Micro-pub revolution has now been going for over 10 years, with well over 200 micro-pubs across the country. Martyn Hillier opened the first micro-pub in Britain – The Butcher’s Arms in Herne, Kent in November 2005 – the day after bringing in the 2003 Licensing Act. This legislation finally made it no longer essential to prove the need for a licence to sell alcohol and thus avoided the battle with the pub companies in court when trying to gain a licence. Kent became the focus for many micro-pubs before the concept spread throughout the country.  

So, what is a micro-pub? They are small free-houses which listen to their customers, promote conversation, serve real ale and shun all forms of electronic entertainment. Micro-pubs encourage conversation, and talking to strangers is the norm, with no barrier between the landlord and the customer. Most micro-pubs have only one room, which is personal and inviting, with simple home-style furniture. Most focus on cask ale, although some have cider, wine, spirits and keg craft beers. No meals are served, but small bar snacks and pub games may be available. Often there is seating around the room, to promote conversation, rather than separate inward-facing tables. Some micro-pubs don’t have a bar, and offer table service with beer served direct from the casks in the cellar area. They are usually one-off, not part of a chain, and some only have limited opening hours. They are locally orientated, as a community hub, and often put new life into old shops on declining high streets. Many of the premises have modest rent and minimal overheads, and offer well-priced beers, including vegan and unfined beers. However, some micro-pubs serve as much keg lager as cask ale, and others may be owned by a single brewery; others may have evolved from bottle shops or brewery taps. Some only offer keg craft beer, so do not fit our description since they don’t serve any real cask ale. So, the essential hallmarks of a good micro-pub are: conversation – you are joining a welcoming community with whom you share an interest in beer; they serve real cask ale, excellently kept; and there are no distractions!   

Micro-pubs have gained the reputation of being well-run, civilised establishments, good neighbours and hubs for the community. They take you back to the days of the old ale-houses, when beer was served from a firkin in someone’s front room. They have a landlord who enjoys his work, loves cask ale and is grateful to have found an independent living; he makes it his business to create a friendly and inclusive atmosphere. And the small size of the premises means customers mix with others and make friends and conversations – small, but perfectly formed!

In Worcestershire, we have The Little Ale House in Bromsgrove, Kidderminster has two Weavers micro-pubs (separately owned – Comberton Hill and Park Lane), and the Beer Emporium, with The Black Tap in Redditch, Alestones (Tardebigge Court) and the Oil Basin and Bull Baiters Inn in Worcester.   In the Black Country, you’ll find Tivi-Ale (Dudley) and The Garrison (Merry Hill), the Old Dispensary (Langley) and Fixed Wheel’s Wheelie Thirsty (Old Hill), the Crafty Pint (Halesowen) and Shell-ter (Blackheath), with another Fixed Wheel Wheelie Thirsty in Lye and Barbridge (Stourbridge). A little further away, in Walsall, we have the Jiggers Whistle (Brownhills) and Turtles Head (Aldridge), whilst nearby in Wolverhampton, you’ll find Hail to the Ale (Claregate), Keg & Comfort (Three Tuns), Starting Gate (Pennfields) and Café Metro (Bilston). Solihull has the Ale Rooms and Oktogon (Knowle) and Pup & Duckling and Shaking Hands (Shirley).

The suburbs of Birmingham contain a surprising number of micro-pubs, including  the Wildcat Tap and Cork & Cage (Stirchley), Hop & Scotch, Gorilla and The Juke (Kings Heath), Hop Garden and Sadler’s Brewer’s Social (Harborne), another Sadler’s micro-pub at Quinton, and the Cask & Craft and Brew House & Tea Room (Boldmere, Sutton Coldfield).  The micro-pubs in the city centre such as Clink, Tilt, Kilder & The Wolf, only serve keg craft beer and have no real ale, so they don’t fit the recognised definition of a micro-pub. 

There is also a handful of micro-pubs in Warwickshire, including Lord Hop (Nuneaton), Crafty Banker (Rugby), Thirst Edition (Shipston-on-Stour), Willi’s Social and Weatheroak Tap House (Studley), Stratford Alehouse (Stratford-upon-Avon) and the Old Post Office in Warwick.  Further afield, Staffordshire has more than 25 micro-pubs, particularly in and around Stoke-on-Trent, and there’s a handful in Shropshire.

This new wave of micro-pubs has certainly increased the options available to real ale drinkers and has helped to offset the losses of traditional pubs and help the growth of local micro-breweries.  Small is beautiful!